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Latin (lingua lătīna), was the language spoken in the Roman Empire, and is the language of liturgy, learning and scholarship in Mythic Europe. Its use is ubiquitous throughout western Europe; only in the east is Greek its rival.

Latin for Ars Magica[]

This section will explain in brief some of the rules of Latin grammar and construction for use in Ars Magica sagas. For general information about the Latin Language, see the article at Wikipedia. Please be aware that this short article is not a proper Latin grammar, nor an exhaustive list of Latin vocabulary, nor even an introduction to the Latin language in any real sense. If you rely on this material to take a Latin test, you will flunk. "Latin for Ars Magica" is a bare-bones sketch for players and Storyguides to help them add colorful Latinisms to their games.

This article will concentrate on the Latin which actually appears in Ars Magica; it will not provide much additional Latin vocabulary. For this, you can pick up an inexpensive Latin-to-English/English-to-Latin dictionary at any decent bookstore. Ours sees much use at our table.

"Ars Magica"[]

Let's start with the name of the game itself, Ars Magica. You probably know that this is Latin for "The Art of Magic," because that's what it says on the covers of many editions of the game. This is sort of correct. When we say "The Art of Magic," we use "Art" and "Magic" as nouns. But in Latin there are two different words for magic - magia which is a noun, and magicus, which is an adjective - or you can think of these as two different versions of the same word, which are used in different ways - which is actually closer to the truth. Because of the form of Magica, we know it's actually the adjective version of the word, not the noun. So if Ars means "art", a better translation is "The Magical Art", using "magical" as the adjectival form of the English word "magic" (a noun.)

Pronunciation and the Latin Script[]

Long and Short Vowels[]

Written Latin[]

With just a couple of significant changes, the Latin script is the same one we use to write English today... and German, French, Spanish... sometimes even Japanese. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin was the language of the Western Church, and therefore of scholarship in general, and was disseminated throughout western Europe and adapted to regional languages, some of which (French, Spanish, Italian and others,) were descended from Latin. But it was also used for writing other languages (English, German, the Scandinavian languages,) which did not.

Generally speaking English uses the Latin script much as the Romans did. But some changes were introduced during the Middle Ages:

  • The Latin of the Romans did not employ lower-case letters; they used captials exclusively. Lower-case or minuscule letters came into use by Carolignian scribes in the early 9th century; even so, they were not widely adopted until much later.
  • V and U: Latin was used by the Romans used the letter V to represent a vowel sound corresponding to the u sound indicated above, as well as for a consonantal sound corresponding to English w.
  • I and J: Latin has no letter J. Just as with the V and U, the letter I represented both a vowel i or a consonant which roughly corresponds with our y or j. A distinction did not begin to be made in the script between the two forms until it was introduced in Middle High German in the late 15th or early 16th centuries.

All three of these changes were not adopted widely until the Renaissance. Along with them came a fourth: the use of the letter w to represent the familiar sound. In Ars Magica publications, v is employed for consonantal u and j is used for consonantal i. This article will strive to be consistent with this practice, which reflects common usage but not all Latin education.

Parts of Speech[]

Just like English, Latin has parts of speech. Note the following, along with the running example, which will come up as we continue:

  • Nouns are persons, places or things. In a sense, each noun is a "name". In the sentence "Honorable Brutus fled from a wrathful Antony," "Brutus" and "Antony" are nouns.
  • Verbs represent actions, either real or abstract. In the sentence "Honorable Brutus fled from a wrathful Antony," "fled" is the verb.
  • Adjectives modify or describe nouns, or make them more specific. In the sentence "Honorable Brutus fled from a wrathful Antony," "Honorable" and "wrathful" are adjectives.
  • Prepositions introduce prepositional phrases or indicate the relationship between one or more things mentioned in a sentence. In the sentence "Honorable Brutus fled from a wrathful Antony," "from" is the preposition.
  • Finally, Articles are words like English "the," "an" and "a" that are used with a noun to indicate whether the thing named by the noun is something specific or not. Latin does not normally use articles, but there are Latin constructions that look like articles, so beware. In the sentence "Honorable Brutus fled from a wrathful Antony," "a" is an indefinite article.

Inflection and Structure[]

Latin is called an inflected language. Informally, this means that in Latin, words are modified to show what their function is in a sentence. In English this is done mostly through word order; we might say that "Caesar conquered Gaul," for example. In English, we know that "Caesar" is the subject of the verb, "conquered", since it appears before the verb in the sentence. Caesar is the one doing the action indicated by the verb - conquering, in this case, as Caesar was wont to do from time to time. "Gaul" is the object of the verb - the noun being acted upon. Again, this is indicated by word order, which in English normally runs subject, then verb, then object (SVO). If we wanted to put things in a different order we'd say something like "Gaul was conquered by Caesar," or "Conquered Gaul, Caesar did."

In Latin word order is largely irrelevant. We can put things in any order we like, because the grammatical functions of the words aren't indicated by the position in the clause, but by the forms the words take. We can say Caesar vicit Galliam just as easily as we might say Caesar Galliam vicit." This is because we know that Galliam is an object by the grammatical case that it is in. A noun like "Gaul" can appear in Latin as Gallia, Galliam or Galliae among other forms, and which form is being used tells us what function the word is performing.

Verbs work the same way. If we take vicit as the verb, how do we know whether the sentence is saying that Caesar did conquer Gaul, or that Caesar will conquer Gaul, or that Caesar is in the process of conquering Gaul? The form of the verb tells us.

In our example, vicit is the perfect tense, third-person form of vincio, "I conquer." So we know that Caesar's conquest happened in the past, and was completed. There are additional nuances here, but for now, just think of the perfect tense as a past tense.

Nouns in Latin[]

Nouns in Latin work just like nouns in English, for the most part. Nouns are named things, which gamatically can be used as the subject of a very, or the object of a verb or preposition. (We'll get to this shortly.) In fact, the very word "noun" comes from the Latin nomen, meaning "name".

In Latin a noun has a gender (of which there are three: masculine, feminine or neuter,) a number, of which there are two, singular and plural,) and a case, which determines the noun's function in a sentence or clause. There are six cases and the remnant of a seventh (the locative,) that fell into very limited use. Case is usually indicated by the ending attached to the stem of the noun. The most important for our purposes here are the following:

  • The nominative, which is used in two ways: as the subject of a clause or sentence, or as the compliment, often with the verb "to be"; in the clause "Caesar is a rich man," "Caesar" (as the subject) would be in the nominative, and "rich man" (as the compliment) would also be in the nominative.
  • The accusative, which is often used to denote the object of a verb or preposition. It can also express motion towards. The accusative also has other functions which lie beyond the scope of this article.
  • The genitive, which denotes possession, author or source. The English equivalent is usually the possessive form "'s" or by adding "of". We might say in English "Caesar's sword," whereas in Latin we would say gladius Caesaris, or "sword of Caesar". In this example, Caesaris is the genitive form of Caesar. The genitive can also indicate part of a whole, as well as performing other functions.
  • The dative indicates the indirect object of a clause; the person to whom something is given, for example, or to whose advantage or disadvantage something is done. The dative also has other functions which lie outside the scope of this work.
  • Similarly, the uses of the ablative case largely lie outside the scope of this work. However, the ablative is commonly used with prepositions, and will be discussed in that section.
  • The vocative case is used when addressing someone or something directly. In most cases, nouns of the 2nd declension being the exceptions, vocative forms are the same as nominative forms.

How a noun changes with case is determined by its declension. The declensions are essentially templates; although there are a few nouns which do not decline regularly, in general nouns of the same declension will reflect their case in the same way.

Verbs in Latin[]

Adjectives in Latin[]